Flight- Chapter Three
Sleet lanced down, soaking the group of Valkyries to the skin. They all could have done without the change in weather. Donald peered through the dark, down at the dim ribbon of river, looking for somewhere safe to land his group. He wiped the ice from his face again and suppressed a tremor.
*Donald, he’s starting to rouse. I can feel his confusion and pain. We have to get him warmer.*
Kieran’s mind voice radiated concern, and Donald glanced over at the silhouette of his cousin, who also shivered continuously in the driving sleet. If we’re this cold, Jays is in trouble. The space blanket won’t be enough.
*As soon as there’s a place to land,* he sent back to Kieran.
A Hunter from Dev’s Wing hove into view and gestured down. Donald scanned ahead then nodded to him.
A rocky stretch of beach grew in the distance. The rest of the Wings pressed forward, dropping to land amid the stones. The last to arrive, Donald and his team slowly lowered Jays into the waiting hands of the Hunters who unclipped the net from their tethers. By the time Donald was on the ground, they had Jays unlashed from the net. Two Hunters had their wings overlapped above the fledge, trying to deflect as much of the sleet as possible while Dylan struggled to untangle the sodden foil blanket then get him out of the soaked clothes. Dev ran up with drier clothes, and they got the trembling man into them.
Donald turned away from Jays. Aiden tugged at Kieran’s soaked jacket with one hand; in the other he held a change for the empath. Kieran moved sluggishly but got himself into the drier garments, then he let them sit him on the ground and put Jays in his lap. Several blankets wrapped them.
Jays finally moaned softly as some heat started to penetrate the cold.
Dev walked up to him, shaking dark wet hair out of his eyes. “He doesn’t look good. I brought the last of the meat for Jays and Kieran. I gave some to David, but he isn’t anywhere near this bad, so we thought Jays should have most of it.”
“Once Kieran gets him warmed up a little, we’ll get it down him. Thanks for remembering Kieran. He’s almost through the last stage, but obviously isn’t quite done.” He shook his wings. “We’ll have to go hunting when we stop for the day. We’re far enough into the mountains now that I haven’t seen any more farms. Go pass the word I want all Flights to keep their eyes open for deer while we’re flying. Maybe we can bring something down before we stop.”
“Right. How long are we stopped for?”
“Until we get Jays warmed up.”
“Ok. I’ll pass the word.”
Donald watched his long frame stride away as he pulled the phone out of his pocket. He called the number. Still no answer. With a soft growl, he shoved it back into his pocket then shook the water off again before he stepped over to where the two fledglings were huddled in the middle of the group on the ground. He hunkered down and combed Jays’s wet hair out of his eyes then met Kieran’s gaze. “Anything yet?”
His cousin shook his head.
Donald continued to comb Jays’s hair; both of their shivering seemed to be a little less now that they were wrapped up. “Still no answer on the phone. I don’t like this.”
“Do you think…” Kieran cleared his throat, “do you think Zach’s there?”
Donald’s hand stilled. “I don’t know. I’ve been wondering. He changed before either of us. I’d assumed he changed in the Hub like we did and had just been sent to the other facility like most of the fledglings. But now…Ian wanting us to contact Dustin, and Dustin is supposed to get us to the wild Valkyries? I’m still having trouble wrapping my mind around the wild Valkyries not being feral all of the time, even though I’m clear of the inhibitor. Too many years of believing a different truth. I’m worried that Dustin isn’t answering. He must have been compromised.”
“If that was the case, I’d expect someone to be answering the phone anyway, just so they could try and get us back. Instead we’re dodging search planes.”
Donald exhaled then shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. And speculating doesn’t change what we need to do. We have to keep trying to find the wild Valkyries. We shouldn’t stay here too long. Everyone’s getting cold in this rain. We need to get food into Jays and get back into the air.”
Kieran tightened his arms around the fledge, rocking him slightly. “Come on, Jays, wake up.”
The fledgling moaned again, then he opened his eyes.
Donald unwrapped the chunk of meat and sliced off a small piece with his knife. Jays’s unfocused gaze wandered the area before he eventually met Donald’s eyes.
Maintaining that look took strength. The once brilliant mind lay shattered behind those eyes. He hardened himself; even knowing the temporary nature of the situation didn’t help.
This young man was second only to Ian in the Hub and had patched up or helped through the change a good portion of the Valkyries surrounding him. Donald held the meat up so he could see it. Jays licked his lips.
Donald fed the slice, and Jays bolted it. After a couple more, he managed to hack off a chunk for Kieran, then continued to hand feed Jays until the shivering subsided enough that he could hold it himself. The feral animal gaze turned wary. Water ran down Jays’s face to drip off his nose.
As he polished off the last of the meat, the sleet started to turn into real snowflakes.
Jays licked his fingers and focused on the world briefly. “Thirsty.”
Someone produced a container and brought water over. After he drank his fill, the new fledge stared around in bewilderment. “Ian? I need to speak to Ian. Where is he, Donald? What’s going on? I don’t feel well.”
This was always one of the hardest parts, especially with someone he knew and respected. He blew out a breath as he studied the younger man. Amnesia already. He had a bad feeling about Ian. He didn’t think the doctor had planned to walk away when he’d ordered him to evacuate Jays. I hope I’m wrong. Please, let me be wrong.
“Ian had us all leave the Facility, remember, Jays?”
Jays looked back at him. “Left? Where’s Ian?”
“He’s catching up. Gabriel got too close at the end of the evacuation so some of us are scattered. Without Ian, I have no idea where to lead us; you are Ian’s Second. You have to know something.”
“Dustin. Need to call Dustin.”
Frustrated Donald held his temper. “I’ve been trying. No one answers. Where do we go, Jays?”
“Where are we?” The soggy fledge peered around from the safety of Kieran’s arms.
“Ian had us gather in Monroe. I had to leave so we’ve been following the river ever since.”
“Monroe? That’s too far south.”
The fledge shrugged and burrowed into Kieran’s warmth. “Aurora is on the western slopes of the Cascades and it takes a few hours to fly to Bellingham, I’ve been told.”
Not much to go on. Donald looked at Kieran in exasperation. “Well at least we got a direction, sort of. Get the blankets wrapped around him securely and the net in place. As soon as you’re ready, we’ll take off. I want to get a few more hours flight before dawn.”
* * *
Robin crossed his arms and watched his group of Hunters scout the clearing the Facility Valkyries had used yesterday. The sleet had washed away most traces, but they were still able to find some clues. He shook his head, sending water flying. The weather was miserable. The sleet had turned to snow and now the snow was starting to stick. At least the trees here were thick enough that they didn’t have to contend with much accumulation yet. Though personally, he thought accumulation would be preferable to the snow that was melting on the evergreen boughs and then falling as an icy rain on the searchers.
After taking his Second’s report, Robin waited for his lead Seer to give his insight. He wasn’t sure where to go from here if Greg didn’t See something. “I hope you or Noah have found something useful. Any physical traces that they left will soon be covered by snow. So it’s up to you two now.”
“I have a couple of ideas that I would like to try in flight to see if we can get a better bearing on them. At the moment, what I can tell you is that the Prime in charge is anxious about someone in his care and that he’s still planning to continue following the river.”
Robin shook out his wings. “Good enough, let’s fly.”
The snow continued to grow worse over the next few hours. Robin did a quick barrel roll to rid his wings of the accumulation. Everyone remained stoic. We’re going to be finding corpses at this rate. He wiped his eyes and peered at his side of the bank. They’ve never been out—how can they have hidden their tracks so well?
He saw Greg’s wing beats falter below him.
*Robin, we got something. Both of us are fairly certain that they stopped up ahead.*
Finally, Robin thought. He broadcast a call to everyone in his Flight. *Keep alert. The Seers think they stopped here. Let’s find the trace, Hunters.* He dropped below the four Casters and two Seers in his Flight and led his group of six Hunters out into a low level reconnaissance.
They skimmed close to the river through the swirling snow, searching. Leslie, Robin’s acting Second, yelled excitedly. *Here, Robin! I’ve got it!*
He called in the entire Flight as he landed on the slippery rocks of the beach, where Leslie stood waiting. The eddying snow and white blanket that softened the large rocks hid any sign, except at one small spot where the river lapped at the bank.
The water saturated the soil and reached a couple of feet up the bank. The wetness continually melted the falling snow, revealing the muddy skids of boot prints. Robin knelt down to examine the tracks. “The deer always do need to come and drink. What do you sense?” he asked Greg and Noah.
“Give us a few minutes.”
Robin stood and shook out his dark wet hair, then gestured for the rest of the Flight to join him in the shelter of the trees up the bank to wait for the two Seers. Everyone sat down and made themselves as comfortable as they could. It wasn’t long before the Seers joined them.
“They headed north, Prime.”
“It’s about bloody time. Finally, they’re headed in the right direction. Any idea how long ago they were here?”
“An hour, two at most. It’s almost dawn now, so they’ll stop soon. We’re flying faster than they are, so it shouldn’t take us too much longer to catch up. And one of the two fledges is leaving a lot of psychic residue.”
“Two?” Robin asked surprised. “I was under the impression that the Facility only had two fledglings in residence, and one of them is now in Aurora.”
Greg shook his head. “There are definitely two of them.”
Puzzled, Robin stood and stretched out his tired, cold muscles, the rest of his Flight following suit. “Well, there’s only one way to find out. Everyone ready?”
They took to the air at the edge of the river then turned north and resumed their grueling pace to try and catch up with the Facility Valkyries.
The snow grew brighter as dawn approached, and Robin signaled his Flight to land at the first sign of the larger group.
“Ok, boys and girls, it looks like they’ve holed up in the copse of trees up ahead. I want the Seers and Casters to hold back, out of sight, and guard our flanks. Hunters, we go in cautiously. I don’t know what to expect. They’re searching for us, but that’s no reason to be stupid. We don’t know how they’ll react, and they outnumber us, so spread out. I’ll approach them first.”
Robin waited for his Hunters to disperse silently into the shadows before he started to walk through the snow. Wet slush had filtered through the trees to partially cover the tracks. He kept his wings loose, his senses stretched to the limit. At the first moment he detected movement, he froze.
Two Hunters separated from the tree trunks and flowed to block his path. Robin eyed them. Aggression radiated, even through the inhibitor still muddling their senses, but Robin could sense uncertainty underlying. Interestingly enough, he recognized the young kid as the more dangerous of the two. His hackles rose, but he stood his ground and made them come to him, placing them in the subordinate position.
They fanned their wings and looked at one another before taking a couple of steps in his direction. Good so far.
“Who are you?” the older one asked.
“I’m Robin. We’ve been sent out from Aurora to search for you.” He controlled the eye contact.
The Hunter flicked his gaze to the side and asked, “We?”
“I’ll call the rest of my Flight in after I’ve talked to Ian and know that your sentries have been warned.”
The two Hunters exchanged a glance.
“I’ll take him, Dev,” the young one said.
Robin nodded to the older Hunter and followed the kid. They walked through the snowy forest for a few minutes. “So how old are you?”
“I just turned sixteen.”
Robin shot a surprised look at the Hunter’s back. “That’s young to have just turned.”
The kid glanced over his shoulder at him before answering. “No. Young is fledging when you’re thirteen.”
Robin had to stop his jaw from dropping. To have survived the change at that age… “You’ve had your wings for three years?!”
“I have better words to call it than that.”
I just bet you do. Robin shook his head. This was one to watch. They pushed through some thick underbrush, and when they came out on the other side, the trees were clear of undergrowth, giving the Facility people room to spread out.
The teenager wove through the trunks and around the exhausted people collapsing on the ground, taking Robin toward a group clustered around two nets.
“Donald,” his escort called when they got near.
Robin craned his head, looking for Ian. A Hunter kneeling on the other side of one of the nets looked up when the kid called. But then the net pulled away from its contents and Robin gasped in shock. “Jays!”
His friend and contact from the Facility looked almost dead. He sprinted forward, falling to his knees next to Jays. “What’s happened?”
The man across from him stared at him in surprise then glanced at his escort. “Aiden?”
“He came up to us in the woods. He said there’re others.”
The Hunter turned back to him and Robin could see wariness in his eyes, but also hope. “You’re from the wild clan?”
“Yes. We’ve been searching for you. Christoff and Jess are already in the valley. Now, what has happened to Jays?” His temper simmered just under the surface, and he didn’t care if the others knew.
“He entered stage two the day we evacuated the Facility. How do you know Jays?”
Another man pushed between him and finished stripping the net off of Jays then laid him gently on the ground. Robin suppressed a growl at the audacity. The stranger didn’t outrank him from the feel of his strength so should know better, but Robin couldn’t place his caste, either a Seer or Caster. That stayed his hand for the moment, not knowing where he fell in the hierarchy. He turned his attention back to Donald.
“My name is Robin. I’m Hunter Prime of Aurora. Jays was my best friend growing up. He’s been my contact with the Facility for years now. He’s not looking good.”
“No, he doesn’t.” The Hunter scrubbed his face. “I’m Donald. The flight’s been hard. We ran out of food for him earlier today. I was just about to send out a small hunting party, hoping to find some deer. Unless you…”
Robin shook his head. He hated to dash Donald’s hopeful look. “Sorry, we don’t have anything on us suitable. But my Hunters are more experienced at wilderness hunting. They’ll come back with something faster. If I may bring my Flight in?”
Robin cast his thoughts out and called his Flight in. The Hunters swept in then, the Wing of Casters and Seers behind them. He looked around at the muzzled Valkyries; they barely batted an eyelash as his Flight landed around him. His people eyed the larger group cautiously. He exchanged looks with Leslie. *Keep them leashed, Les.*
He didn’t know how long before the inevitable clash happened, but he didn’t need his own people precipitating it. Must be the inhibitor keeping them docile, he mused.
He mentally singled out three of his Hunters and sent them a thought burst explaining the situation. They nodded and took flight again; the others stayed close and watched the Facility Valkyries, sending thoughts silently among themselves.
Robin ignored the mental chatter at first; his Wing didn’t know what to make of the strange Valkyries either, but then Robin noticed Donald and a couple others glance up at his people.
*Private!* he snapped. *They’re not all muzzled.*
Donald’s gaze snapped to his. But at that moment, Jays started to stir, drawing their attention. His friend pawed feebly at the space blanket surrounding him before opening his eyes to look around, bewildered.
“Robin?” Jays struggled to sit up. “What are you doing here? I must be dreaming, that’s it isn’t it? The last few days would be so much better if they were a dream.” He leaned forward and rested his head in his hands.
Robin squeezed his friend’s shoulder and shook his head. “Oh, Jays. You always did have the worst timing, didn’t you? Don’t worry, you’re going to be fine. I won’t let anything happen to you. Remember, I promised. I’ll get you to Beth, and she’ll set matters straight.”
“I’m so cold and hungry. I’m always hungry…” Shivering, Jays looked up into his eyes, the lost little boy that Robin remembered so well from childhood.
He brushed Jays’s bangs out of his eyes. “We’re working on getting you something to eat, but it might take a little time. Why don’t you try to get some rest now that you’re on the ground?” He pulled the space blankets up around the fledge’s shoulders, tucking them in. “I need to talk to Donald, but I’ll be back as soon as we have something for you to eat.”
He turned and strode away with Donald, out of hearing of the new fledgling. The Hunter stopped on the other side of the cleared area, and his wings drooped with more than weariness.
“Where’s Ian? I expected to be dealing with him.” Outwardly, Robin forced himself to relax and leaned against a tree trunk to study the Hunter. Inside, he trusted his safety to his Flight to keep watch. The Facility Hunters weren’t stupid after all. Donald had several people in position to take him down if necessary. Though, they were subtle about it.
“He wouldn’t leave with us. I keep hoping that he left after we did…but I don’t hold out much faith of that. The impression I got when he ordered us out was that he didn’t plan to leave.” The Hunter took a deep breath before his gaze returned to him. “So, what’s a Hunter Prime?”
Robin leaned his head back against the rough bark of the tree, not sure what to think about the news about Ian. He really hoped it wasn’t true for all of their sakes, but especially for his Alpha, Marcus. “I’m head of the Hunter caste in Aurora. All Hunters answer to me, and I answer to Marcus. I’m also lead Prime. Which means that I rank the other two caste Primes.”
Curiosity lit Donald’s eyes, and he brushed the snow out of his bangs. “How many are there?”
“Hunters? Or Valkyries?” Robin asked with a small smile.
“There’s about two hundred Hunters, a hundred Casters, and I think around fifty Seers.”
Donald whistled softly. “Three hundred and fifty of you. Wow, I had no idea that many had succeeded in going feral. There are fifty-two of us, counting the two fledglings. Then there are Nickolas, Christoff, and Jessica.”
“Like I said, Chris and my sister were brought in earlier tonight. So you’re only missing Nickolas now, and we have search parties out looking for him. As soon as Jays has eaten, we need to get everyone back into the air and headed toward the valley.”
“But it’s daylight.”
“That won’t be a problem. We have four Casters with us. They can hide our presence for the flight.” Movement drew their attention back to Jays. The fledgling had tried to stand up, but he lost control and toppled over. Two people were trying to coax him back into his blankets, but he was arguing with them.
“I don’t like his lack of coordination. I’ve mentored four new Valkyries over my fledged life, and it shouldn’t be this bad. We need to get him into Beth’s hands or he isn’t going to make it. And that’s not something I’m willing to accept.”
“I agree. Jays is special to all of us. I’ll pass the word that we’ll be taking off again.”
Inside Robin relaxed; Donald’s ready acceptance of his authority made things easier. “Good. If we can get out of here soon enough, I’m hoping to make it back home before dusk.”
“We still need to dig a pit to cook the meat in for Jays and David though, before we can leave.”
“No. It’ll be better for them as is. David is far enough along that he probably won’t like it much, but steak tartar will help Jays tremendously.” Donald shuddered and Robin grinned. “Trust me.”
The snow grew thicker as the day progressed. Dusk now loomed and Robin glanced back over his shoulder through the swirling whiteness. He had gauged his rest stops based on the groups carrying the fledglings, but they were all tired. Robin’s wing muscles burned with fatigue. He could only imagine how the control group was holding up.
That topic had engendered a constant hum of conversation during the flight, though he’d made it clear to keep their telepathy narrow and only use bond paths, since a few of the newcomers were no longer inhibited.
The new arrivals had certainly made an impression with their discipline and stamina.
Robin pushed the sixty-four Valkyries, hoping to get home before dark with the weather worsening. A tingle of awareness washed across his senses, letting him know they had passed through the shield protecting the land Aurora claimed.
He felt all those in his Flight exhale a mental breath, and he relaxed with them. A query buzzed at his mind and he answered the Seer in the tower. Truly only a formality, as it would be obvious to those on sentry duty who he was bringing in.
Twilight fell and lights winked on below in the trees. He led the group lower until they skimmed over the last of the treetops and shot out over the village in the south meadow. The upturned faces of his people flashed by as Robin led the refugees across the length of the valley.
In a flurry of wings, he landed with his Flight in the courtyard. They quickly moved out of the way so the Facility Wings had somewhere to land. Robin stepped back as all five Flights touched down in formation, taking up the majority of the courtyard.
As soon as Donald and his group landed with Jays, Robin stepped forward and started untying the webbing before they could get their tethers unclipped and remove their harnesses.
“How is he, Robin?” Donald asked as he unbuckled his harness.
“I don’t know yet. He’s not coming to this time.” Robin pushed the net off of Jays then picked him up, soaking blankets and all.
“Kieran, with us; Dev, get David out and follow us; everyone else get unharnessed and stay put,” Donald ordered.
The three of them headed toward the entrance to the infirmary. The doors opened before they reached them and Christoff walked out. Relief flowed across his face.
“Donald. It’s about time.”
“I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you, Chris. I have never appreciated being Second so much until now.” He grasped Chris’s forearm. “This can all be your responsibility now. Thank God.”
Shaking his head, Chris snorted. “That bad, huh?”
“You don’t want to know.”
Chris held the doors open for them and Robin heard Chris suck in a breath as he passed the Hunter with his burden.
“Jays? Donald, what happened?”
“Too cold, not enough food for the first day of the second stage? I don’t know what else it could be. I’ve done my best, but I’m worried it wasn’t good enough.”
Robin pushed through the inner doors and made his way to the first available exam table, the other three Valkyries close behind him.
“Jays is tough, Donald. He’ll pull through. We won’t allow him any other choice.”
Robin ignored their conversation and turned his attention to Beth.
Bethany started peeling the foil blankets away from the fledgling. “So what are we looking at?”
“Sixty hours into stage two, coupled with exposure. He’s not coming around this time, Beth. He woke up at all the stops we made on the way here. But now, he’s too limp. He doesn’t feel right.”
“We need to get these damp clothes off of him. Jillian, I need you over here.”
Robin moved out of the way of the diminutive redhead. The two of them didn’t waste any time cutting the clothing off, then getting him wrapped up in a warming blanket. Beth checked his pulse then lifted his eyelids. “Hopefully getting him warmed up will make him come around for a good meal,” she said. “Jill, you stay with him. I’ll check the other one.”
Beth left Jays, and Robin looked up. He’d been so preoccupied that he’d missed when the other fledgling came in. His gaze strayed to the last exam table where his sister lay. Christoff sat by her side, watching him.
Staking his claim.
A snarl rumbled in his chest, which was cut short when Jillian elbowed him in the ribs.
“Not here, Hunter.”
“Sorry, Jillie,” he muttered. He turned his attention to Beth, who examined the other fledgling.
“So, young man, how are you doing?” she asked, brushing his wet bangs out of his eyes. He sat on the other cot.
“Cold and hungry, but otherwise I’m ok.”
She urged him to lean forward so she could get a look at his wings. “How far along are you?”
“I’ve been at the Facility for about five or six weeks, I think. I was told I was brought in about a week after Jessica.”
“Well you don’t seem the worse for wear. We’ll get you warmed up and fed. You can room with Amanda until we get her a mentor. Kevin and Robin just brought her in a couple of days ago, so she’s still sleeping off the start of stage two.” She patted David’s shoulder then moved on to Jessica’s bed. Robin followed her slowly. He wasn’t willing to let the new Valkyries push him out, but he was making an effort to not draw attention.
Beth checked her vital signs and frowned. “There hasn’t been any improvement, Chris. She’s still extremely weak.”
Robin’s heart skipped a beat. He didn’t like the sound of that. He inched closer then felt someone looking at him. He took his gaze away from his sister’s face and met Kieran’s eyes. He couldn’t place the Beta’s caste, and the power in his gaze…
Uncomfortable, Robin looked away. He would take Chris’s straight forward animosity gladly. It was something he understood and shared.
Chris rested his hand on Jessica’s hair and turned his attention on Donald and Kieran. “I want to try something. When I bound myself to her, I noticed an improvement in her pulse and breathing, I want Donald and Kieran to bind with her. I think it could make a difference in helping to get her stabilized.”
Robin shot a look at Bethany. She didn’t look too thrilled. The worry on her face ratcheted his up another notch. He would go with her judgment. Robin moved closer to the foot of Jessica’s bed.
Beth pursed her lips in thought then shook her head. “No. When two fully fledged healthy people form a bond, it’s extremely hard on them. I don’t know what sort of complications a blood bond would have on a fledgling, let alone a one-sided bond. And she’s already lost too much blood, along with the uncertainty of not having her last meal.”
“It wouldn’t be a one-sided bond.”
“She can’t ingest anything during the coma,” Beth stated, shocked. “It’s too dangerous a risk.”
Robin couldn’t agree more. His sister was unnaturally pale and lifeless. He had seen plenty of Valkyries make the transformation over the years, and none had looked like she did now. Unless they were dead. Fortunately for his peace of mind, he saw her chest rise and fall briefly.
His emotions spiked, then spiraled, and he clenched his fist to keep a check on his baser animalistic tendencies, then whispered, “No.”
Chris’s gaze flicked to his briefly before returning to Beth. “I can feel what is happening to her. Her energy, her power, is all draining to Nickolas. She isn’t keeping enough for herself. I can feel her drawing on my energy. She needs more. It might be all that helps both of them through.”
“No,” Robin said louder. Christoff’s gaze hardened and locked with his. “It’s a nonconsensual bond first off, and second, Beth thinks it isn’t good for her. She has more years’ experience than anyone, other than Ian, in the change.”
“Will neither of you listen to me?” Chris snapped. “It doesn’t matter how many years of experience she’s had. This is new territory, even for Ian. And believe me, I know just how happy not having a say in this will make her. But I know this is the right choice. I will do anything within my power to protect her.”
“Then you’ll have to go through me.”
Challenge bored into him from Chris. “You have no say, Robin. And if you challenge me on this, I will take you down. Trust me on that.”
“Stop it, both of you!” Beth snapped.
Neither of them paid any attention to her, and the tension between them rose. Donald and Kieran moved into position to intercept him if necessary and he growled.
“You can’t stop us, Robin,” Christoff snapped. “As long as Donald and Kieran consent, then they will be binding to her. None of you will be stopping us.” Christoff raked Beth with a glare. “She and Jays both belong to us. Never forget it.”
Robin loosened his wings in preparation for a fight.
*Robin!* The mind voice ripped into him.
*Robin! Stand down!*
*No, Marcus, she’s my sister!*
Robin heard the door slam open, but he didn’t dare remove his gaze from Christoff. Donald and Kieran had come to stand between him and Chris, but they seemed to be blocking Chris as much as him, though he didn’t doubt that they would help their Wing leader if it came to blows.
“I know she’s your sister,” Marcus said. “But she isn’t one of us by her choice, Robin. Now, stand down. I repeat, Prime, stand down or meet me in the discipline circle.”
Marcus stepped between him and his adversary. Having no choice, Robin broke eye contact with Christoff and furled his wings. He ground his teeth, but he bowed to Marcus and backed up to the wall. He was still too keyed up to sit though, so he paced the wall.
He felt Marcus study him for a moment before he joined his wife. Frustration welled as the new Valkyries warily surrounded Jessica, and he kept an untrusting eye on all of them.
Marcus cleared his throat. “Chris, can we please talk about this?”
“No.” Christoff drew his knife and beckoned Donald closer. “I’m sorry it upsets Robin, but I really believe this is for the best. If she dies, so does Nickolas, and I won’t lose either of them.” Chris nicked the bottom edge of Donald’s wrist. Robin saw blood drip onto the sheet pulled up around Jessica before the Hunter placed it to her lips.
He spun on his heel and stalked along the wall. It was all he could do not to launch himself at them. Marcus knew, because his Alpha turned to pin him with a stare. He growled back.
Donald withdrew his arm and Jillian slapped a bandage on it. Robin flinched when Chris sliced Jess’s wrist. He couldn’t stop the growl, Beth walked over to him, placing her hand on his arm.
“He may be right, Robin,” she said softly. “Nothing else I’ve tried has made an improvement. I am concerned about the blood loss and how she’ll adjust to the multiple bonds while in the coma, but maybe it’ll be worth it.”
Christoff caught Donald when the Hunter fell to his knees after the first taste. Robin took a step toward them, but Beth’s hand held him back. Another moment passed before Chris took Jessica’s hand from Donald and laid it on a towel at her side. Christoff’s speed increased since Jessica’s blood now flowed; he cut Kieran and repeated the whole ritual.
Robin studied the glassy-eyed look on Donald’s face as the Hunter sank into a chair. Curious. He’d blood bonded to several people in his sept and in his Flight, and they hadn’t had the ritual psychically overwhelm them like this.
Chris caught Kieran.
Beth let go of his arm and rushed to Jessica’s side. She checked her vitals while Jillian dealt with her wrist. After a moment, Beth paused to take a deep breath then turned her head to look at him. She smiled.
Shaking from the adrenaline coursing through his system, Robin stepped up to the foot of his sister’s table. Color flushed Jess’s face as he watched, and her breathing grew stronger.
“It looks like your gamble worked, Christoff,” Beth said. “She’s improving.”
Chris had his hand on Kieran’s head. The Valkyrie sat in a chair, bent over his knees. Robin couldn’t help but notice that his reaction exceeded Donald’s.
“I’m hoping the three of us can keep her monitored and send enough energy to support her. I don’t want to have to choose someone she’s not familiar with to bond with her. She’s going to be pissed enough with the three of us.”
“Then I will,” Robin said. “If she needs more.”
Chris met his gaze and shook his head. “Not happening. If it’s needed, it will be one of our own.”
“She’s my sister,” he snarled.
“I don’t care. I don’t know you.”
Robin’s muscles all tensed to spring; he barely held himself in check. This just wasn’t fair. He had only just got Jess back. Gazes locked. Neither one looked away.
The Hunter smiled, ready to oblige, then said softly, “I expect we’ll find ourselves in the ring before too long.”
“I look forward to it,” Robin replied.
“If you two are done with the posturing and hierarchy testing, we have work to do,” Marcus cut in. “There are ten Wings of Valkyries standing out in the snow. I expect they’re cold and tired and would probably like to get out of the weather.”
Chris brushed his hand over Kieran’s hair once more then stood. “Kier, stay here and keep an eye on Jess and Jays. Donald, you’re with me.”
Robin turned away from Jessica’s bed to join Marcus at the door. No expression crossed his Alpha’s face. Uncertainty swamped him as he reached out to hold the door for everyone. He’d always known his place with Marcus, but now his true son had returned. Would Marcus even need him anymore?
A seething mess of frustration, anger, and anxiety, he followed the other three out into the snowy courtyard, the urge to hit something roiling.
Darkness had fallen during the time they had spent in the infirmary. The soft snow still drifted down lazily through the lights blazing in the courtyard. The five Flights of Valkyries shivered, waiting for the return of someone to tell them where to go.
“Chris, bring everyone this way. We can get them warmed up and fed while we decide what to do for tonight,” Marcus said.
Robin held back and followed in the wake of the Facility Valkyries.
* * *
The wave of heat pressed against Marcus’s skin as soon as he entered the cavernous room. The twin fireplaces positioned in the center of the two longer walls of the longhouse could pump out the heat when they were fully stoked. Apparently, tonight warranted such treatment.
He chose a table in the center of the room as all of the Facility Valkyries filed wearily in. Robin closed the door behind them. At first, he thought his Second was making sure there were no stragglers, but then Robin made no move to cross the room and join him.
Marcus waved Christoff and Donald to seats as he pondered his Second. *Robin?*
The young Hunter looked up.
Marcus had never seen him look so unsure before. *Are you ok?*
*I think so.*
*Good. Then get your ass over here.* Relief, quickly hidden, flashed through their mind connection. His Hunter Prime was clearly rattled.
Pulling out a chair, Marcus sat. There was nothing he could do for his Hunter at the moment, so he turned his attention to the new additions to their valley.
Primarily his youngest son and his Second. The two Valkyries examined everything warily.
He cleared his throat and the two younger men snapped their attention to him. Marcus could see the first hurdle was going to be a pain in the ass. How to channel their instinctive need to know where they fell in the hierarchy without a lot of fighting? Their unfettered gazes challenged him.
This would be much easier if my father were here already. He’d keep them in line.
Most of the Facility people could be kept separate for a few days. But the Flight and Wing leaders could pose a problem.
Robin hooked a chair with his foot and took his normal position next to Marcus, and Chris’s gaze locked onto his Hunter Prime.
“Keep it leashed, Christoff,” Marcus said. His son turned back to him, then both of the Facility Valkyries tensed. Raven Sept’s Flight leader and his Second appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. He asked with a sigh, “Is this going to be a problem, Chris? Can you hold your people while the food is brought out? Or should I have Raven Sept leave?”
Donald answered as he threw a glance at his Flight leader. “It’ll be fine. Most of us are still on the inhibitor. Those of us who aren’t just need some time. It’s a bit overwhelming.”
“I can imagine,” Marcus said softly but still kept his attention on Chris. “Let’s get some stew into all of you, then if you don’t object, you can all bed down in here tonight. Tomorrow we can show you the cabins.”
“Object?” Chris snapped.
Marcus let his lips curve. “Well, it is a hard floor. And the cabins have beds. But we would be dividing you all up in the dark.”
Donald snorted. “This is a whole lot better than where we have slept for the last two days.”
“That was my thought, too.” Marcus chuckled then sobered. “Chris, until we’ve had a chance to go over our laws and protocols and figure out what sort of classes we need to set up to teach all of you what the inhibitor kept from you, keep all of your people together and away from ours. Integrating this many new Valkyries will take careful handling.”
Christoff and Donald exchanged looks, and Marcus got an uneasy feeling that he didn’t have time to explore. Raven Sept moved carefully through the tense strangers, ladling out the thick stew and pouring mugs of hot tea.
Marcus thanked the Hunter who placed a bowl in front of him and watched the famished refugees dive in.
They reminded him of a pack of feral dogs, hunched over their bowls, hooded gazes keeping track of their surroundings.
He scraped up a spoonful of the rich gravy and looked at his son. Chris had grown strong. The photos and videos his father had supplied over the years didn’t come close to the reality. The little boy from his memory had to still be in there somewhere. And Nick…
His thoughts shied away from his missing eldest son.
*Marcus, should I have Wolf Sept bring bedding here?*
He glanced out of the corner of his eye at his Hunter Prime. Robin subtly pointed his chin at the yawning group. Heat from the fireplaces and the warm meal had overcome their guardedness. Some were starting to fall asleep at the tables.
*Yes. They won’t last much longer.*
The soft buzz of close telepathic communication whispered across his senses as Robin talked to Bruce, Wolf’s Flight leader.
Donald sopped out the last of the gravy from his bowl with a piece of bread, his head propped on his fist as he chewed and asked Chris, “Where’s Nick? What happened?”
Even though Donald was tired, Marcus could see the concern in his eyes. A quick glance at his son showed him there was reason to be concerned. He waited for Christoff’s answer, curious to know, too.
“I don’t know where he is. It didn’t take us long to catch up to Jess; she hadn’t gotten far, just on the other side of the slough. She was her usual cooperative self, no surprise there.” Chris paused to take a drink. “Remember when we had to pull Nick out of her cell?”
“Yeah. As soon as we caught up to her, both of them went feral. Faster than I could believe. To get away from us, she dove out over the water.”
Marcus blinked, not sure he heard right.
Donald’s head slipped off his fist. “She flew?”
A small smile curled Chris’s lips. “Oh yeah. Sent Nick over the edge.”
He met Robin’s raised eyes then turned back to the story.
Chris toyed with his mug. “She was willing to fly herself to the ground to keep from coming here. Between the two of us, we managed to subdue her in the air, but by that time they’d reached the point of no return.”
Understanding dawned and Marcus said, “The wave of power?”
“Do you know if they exchanged blood?” Marcus asked.
“I don’t know what they did, but it glowed like a goddamned sun during it. After he landed with her, his wrist was bleeding and he and I shared blood.”
“A blood bond. That’s what you’ve done with Jessica, and that’s why you can feel Nick, though I’m surprised at the distance. I suspect the bonding between two Breeders is more intense. When did she go into the coma?”
“She was unconscious when he landed with her.”
“So the power swell threw her in.” His vision grew hazy as he looked inward in thought.
“She hasn’t moved. The entire time I carried her.” The anxiety in Christoff’s whisper brought Marcus back, and his son rubbed between his eyes. “Nick sent me off with Jessica to meet up with you, Donald, at the rendezvous. He went back to the Facility to make sure everyone had gotten out ok. That’s the last I saw him.”